Education

Piedmont father says son expelled for opposing transgender bathrooms

January 20, 2023

Ray Carter

A father of six said Piedmont school officials expelled his son from school, and imposed other punishments, because the youth expressed opposition to a proposed federal law that would require schools to grant bathroom access based on individuals’ self-proclaimed gender identity rather than sex.

During public comment at the January meeting of the Piedmont school board, Jason Thomas levied those charges and laid blame at the feet of Piedmont Superintendent James White.

“Dr. James White is not into education, but into re-education,” Thomas said.

He urged the school board to terminate White’s contract.

Thomas said his son was expelled from Piedmont schools for expressing opposition to a proposed federal law that would make gender identity a protected class similar to race. He said school officials claimed that was equivalent to using a racial slur. Thomas noted his son’s comment occurred in a text outside school hours and did not involve any racial slur.

“When replying to a group text, from my house on Saturday, he was asked if he agreed or disagreed with (the) Equality Act, which he replied, exactly, ‘I don’t agree they should have equality,’” Thomas said. “This sounds rough. But when I simply communicated with my ninth-grade son, he said he was afraid that the Act would make him share a shower or bathrooms with the opposite sex.”

The proposed federal Equality Act would effectively repeal an Oklahoma state law that restricts school-bathroom access based on sex and another state law that restricts girls’ athletics to biological females.

Thomas said his son was also forced to meet with the school psychologist for an evaluation that his son reported included badgering about his views on the Equality Act.

In addition, Thomas said his son was required to write an essay on “hate speech” and school officials wanted the boy to go through an anti-bullying program. He said the youth was also required to run “until he threw up” during athletics “because he had ‘disgraced the Wildcats.’”

Thomas said the false allegation of racism was especially hurtful since he and his children are all Cherokee, noting his family’s history includes the Trail of Tears and his own father’s attendance at a boarding school where the elder Thomas was not allowed to speak his native language.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs sent a request for comment to Piedmont school officials, including White. As of publication, no response had been provided.

The website for Piedmont schools includes an “equity and inclusion” statement declaring the district will work “to address bias and prejudice in our school community” and “achieve systemic change.”

If Thomas’ claims are accurate and his son was penalized for expressing his view on a political issue, Piedmont schools could potentially face legal liability. While courts have held that schools can impose punishments for off-campus speech—such as making threats or failing to follow lessons—courts have also imposed limits on schools’ authority over student speech.

In 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Mahanoy Area High School in Pennsylvania violated the First Amendment free-speech rights of teenager Brandi Levy. After Levy failed to make the school’s varsity cheerleading squad, she made associated social-media posts that contained vulgar language and gestures. Upon learning of the social-media posts, the school suspended Levy from the junior varsity cheerleading squad.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in that case stated that “the school itself has an interest in protecting a student’s unpopular expression, especially when the expression takes place off campus. America’s public schools are the nurseries of democracy. Our representative democracy only works if we protect the ‘marketplace of ideas.’”